A note about the audiobook -- I started listening to this one and it wasn't quite grabbing me. The text was falling flat for some reason and my mind wA note about the audiobook -- I started listening to this one and it wasn't quite grabbing me. The text was falling flat for some reason and my mind wandered a little too much. Debra Winger has a lovely delivery as the reader, but the audiobook just didn't work for me this time. So I abandoned it for the hardcover -- and finished it in one sitting I became that engrossed and enthralled, moved and inspired.
In June of 2015 I was lucky enough to attend the American Library Association conference held in San Francisco that year. Not only was it a thrill to be surrounded by 20,000 librarians from all corners of the library world, but the City by the Bay had been on my bucket list for years. It was a week of great food and much adventuring (including a day trip to Alcatraz), with thankfully no earthquakes. But the absolute highlight of the entire shebang was getting to see Gloria Steinem speak in person. Let me just say that at 81 years old, this woman has lost none of her charisma, style, and magnetic presence. She is as strikingly beautiful as she has ever been, and her generosity of spirit and kindness beam from her person like the warmth of a thousand suns.
Her latest book is a compilation of memories and reflection of a life lived on the road and what it means to be an "organizer" -- of social justice movements, of rallies, of connecting others. When most people think of Steinem they think "feminist" and "speaker" and "leader" but what she's spent most of her life doing is listening and that is what has made her so good at being all of those other things. To be a great organizer, you need to first listen, and from the listening will come empathy, understanding, knowledge, and new ideas. Now into her eighth decade, Steinem continues to listen, never one to believe she has learned all there is to know, or is now someone who carries all the answers to truth and justice and gender equality.
I was surprised to learn that Steinem is a nervous public speaker, and though she has spent a life doing it, still gets butterflies before getting up in front of a group of people. I can't imagine a life on the road as she has lived it, so very untethered. I am too much of a homebody to have ever been called to such a nomadic life, but there is a part of me that wonders what I've missed in the way of human connection and adventure. When she turned 50, Steinem finally purchased a home and began to nest, and though her nomadic adventures would persist at least now she had a place to return and rest and refuel. Maybe when I turn 50 I'll do the opposite and take to the road!
It's the surprise, the unexpected, the out of control. It turns out that laughter is the only free emotion--the only one that can't be compelled. We can be made to fear. We can even be made to believe that we're in love because, if we're kept dependent and isolated for long enough, we bond in order to survive. But laughter explodes like aha! It comes when the punch line changes everything that has gone before, when two opposites collide and make a third, when we suddenly see a new reality. Einstein said he had to be very careful while shaving, because when he had an idea he laughed -- and he cut himself. Laughter is an orgasm of the mind. ~Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road
This is not a perfect book. In her passion for the subject and her glowing respect for LA Homicide Detective John Skaggs, Leovy's effusive praise can This is not a perfect book. In her passion for the subject and her glowing respect for LA Homicide Detective John Skaggs, Leovy's effusive praise can feel overstated, venturing into fangirl territory -- as if she were writing up an application essay to have Skaggs knighted or appointed to sainthood. But I'm going to cut her some slack since this book is extremely well researched, and powerfully presented. Leovy has been embedded for years in the crime area she is writing about -- the infamous South Central Los Angeles. This isn't an outsider elbowing her way into the quagmire of violence, but rather an LA citizen that deeply cares about the "plague of murders" devastating LA County's young black men and the tragic toll it has taken on those who loved them.
While the narrative arc for the book is to cover in-depth one particular homicide -- that of 18 year old African American Bryant Tennelle (son of Wallace Tennelle, a highly respected detective with the Los Angeles police), Leovy does a great job balancing the intimate details of this case with a larger encompassing analysis of race relations in America and the rise of Los Angeles gangs and black on black homicidal violence. The statistics she presents are both shocking and depressing; for example, African-American males make up “just 6 percent of the country’s population but nearly 40 percent of those murdered.” Furthermore, in the wake of improving national crime statistics (even for LA County), homicide remains the No. 1 cause of death for African-American males ages 15 to 34.
So Leovy wants to try and put some of this numbing tragedy into a meaningful context -- how have the lives of young black men become so cheap? Why has this bloody pattern of black on black violence become so commonplace? And what needs to be done to end this plague once and for all? Leovy doesn't have the answers, but I appreciate her attempts to tackle the at times, controversial and painful issues, and shed light on a problem that's difficult to know, understand and talk about.
Again I will reiterate: this is not a perfect book. There are a lot of names and shifting points of view that, as a reader, it's easy to get lost or frustrated. But at its best, this book will make you think, consider, and question. It will make you want to understand. It will bring you to a place of empathy away from preconceived notions and prejudices, and that's a powerful thing.
If you think you might read this book, I highly recommend checking out the documentary Crips and Bloods: Made In America, which provides an excellent overview of what's been called the longest running civil war in the history of America. Like Leovy wants to do with her book, this unflinching documentary humanizes what's been a very dehumanizing reality for the black citizens of South Los Angeles.
I am a sucker for survival stories, especially those set at sea. Have no idea why. Perhaps it's for the visceral, vicarious thrill of experiencing the I am a sucker for survival stories, especially those set at sea. Have no idea why. Perhaps it's for the visceral, vicarious thrill of experiencing these terrifying events unfold from the safety and comfort of my reading chair. Which probably makes me an asshole, but let's be clear -- it's not the SUFFERING I get off on, but the grittiness and ingenuity required of the survivors to live through the ordeal so that we can all learn from it in some profound way (there is a part of me that uses these stories as self-help manuals -- what to do when stranded on an island, in the desert, in the Andes, in the Pacific ocean, on Mars!)
(waves to Mark Watney -- yes I know he's a fictional character but you get my point).
To call Salvador Alvarenga's true survival story of 438 days (!!!) adrift at sea "extraordinary" just might be the understatement of the century. His tale is the very epitome of extraordinary and then some. Can we just invent a new word please? So okay, extraordinary, but also terrifying and amazing and shocking and unbelievable. How can it be humanly possible for a person to survive so long adrift at sea with few supplies? What will this person eat? Where will they get their drinking water to stave off death from dehydration? Supposing food and water challenges are addressed, how does a person go about developing a mental toughness, a spiritual and emotional resiliency to go on in the face of insurmountable odds, immeasurable aching loneliness, crippling boredom and sensory deprivation?
Jonathan Franklin does a great job here fleshing out Alvarenga's story with as much specific detail as possible pertaining to the 438 days, but also balances this side of the story with accounts from other people who have survived long periods at sea highlighting similarities and differences. He also quotes from scientists and psychologists who have studied survival and the mental, emotional and physical changes humans undergo in extreme survival situations. This helps put Alvarenga's experience into a larger, more meaningful context.
If you do the audiobook thing, the reader for this one is excellent. His voice kept me immersed in the details and drama with very little opportunity for my mind to lose focus and wander. This is a gripping tale of extreme human survival that left me exhausted, humbled, and inspired.
A before and after of Alvarenga and his first haircut and shave:
My reading/reviewing year is really getting off to an excruciatingly, abysmal slow start. I blame my Netflix addiction that includes a recent binge viMy reading/reviewing year is really getting off to an excruciatingly, abysmal slow start. I blame my Netflix addiction that includes a recent binge viewing of The Shield (from which I'm still recovering). In November, I became obsessed with Sarah Koenig's Serial podcast and literally lost weeks. Archer is back in full throttle splendor -- "We need a minute Captain Shit Nuts!" -- soon to be followed by the return of Season 3 of The Americans on the 28th.
Throw in work, sleep, eating, alcohol consumption and Words With Friends, and it's no wonder I've fallen way behind.
I don't have a real penchant towards reading about serial killers. I don't even like them in my movies usually. However, like most things, there are exceptions. One of my favorite films of all time is David Fincher's Zodiac (2007). It's an incredible movie that takes a cold case with a million moving pieces that went unsolved for decades and distills it down into this cerebral and frightening coherent narrative about obsession and loss of self. To this day, the Zodiac killer remains unidentified and the lingering torment and regret laid on the shoulders of the men who chased him in vain cannot be underestimated.
The Green River Killer was another notorious serial killer who almost got away. Gary Ridgway was eventually convicted of murdering 49 women but it's believed his kill count is much higher. The Green River murders began in 1982 and hit their peak in 1984. However, Ridgway would not be identified and arrested until 2001 thanks to DNA evidence.
The lead investigator for The Green River Killer was a man by the name of Tom Jensen. When the Green River Task Force was eventually disbanded, Jensen became the sole investigator. It was a case that would continue to haunt and obsess him right up until the day of Ridgway's arrest. It's a story that Jensen's son wants to tell, an intimate look at his father's entanglement with evil and desperation, frustration and determination.
I never would have believed this story could be contained in the black and white panels of a 200 page graphic novel. But contained it is. Jensen's version is a remarkable example of gritty police procedural balanced with a son's touching tribute to a father he obviously respects and cherishes deeply. The storytelling is sharp and rhythmic, bouncing back and forth from past to present in a seamless montage of events that is impressive. There are hardly any visual or textual clues to orient the reader in time; nevertheless, I was rarely left wondering 'where' and 'when' in the story I was.
This is one graphic novel that packs an emotional wallop. Not just because of the subject matter, but for the way in which the story is told....more
I always feel guilty when I snag a book from NetGalley and don't love it. But hey -- impartial reviewing and honest reader response is what we all cra I always feel guilty when I snag a book from NetGalley and don't love it. But hey -- impartial reviewing and honest reader response is what we all crave, right? So I get over that guilt pretty quickly.
Adam Rockoff has a great idea here. While my real passion is to watch horror movies (not read about them) every once in a while a book like this sneaks past my defenses with a come hither look I can't resist. That's what this book did with its great cover and catchy (if wordy) title.
Essentially what Rockoff is attempting to do here (and largely fails) is what Stephen King accomplished decades ago with flair and brilliance in his nonfiction study of the horror genre Danse Macabre. What did I want this Christmas season? What do I long for keenly every year that passes? A goddamn, updated sequel! Get on that Uncle Stevie, before it's too late!
King's masterpiece covers horror in all its manifestations in print, and on the big and small screens. Rockoff narrows his focus to just the movies, and that would be enough if it had been a wide view of horror on the big screen, but Rockoff's kink is the slasher / exploitation films (the subtitle for this book should have been my first clue).
Rockoff has already written a book about the rise of the slasher film called Going to Pieces -- heh, cute title -- and without having read it, I'm left with a sneaking suspicion that this follow-up book treads a lot of the same ground. In The Horror of it All Rockoff has a major rant against Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel for a special edition episode of their show Sneak Previews aired in 1980 in which the film critics lambast these "slasher" flicks as a dangerous and despicable trend in film both demeaning and dangerous to women (these men are so high up on their high horse here I can't imagine they can still see the ground). Don't get me wrong -- I love Roger Ebert, he remains one of my favorite film critics -- but boy, was he mostly a fuss bucket when it came to horror movies in general. It wasn't his genre of choice and it showed in many of his prejudicial (and often undeserved) negative reviews of some great movies.
Rockoff is justified in tearing a strip off these two men in an instance where they show complete ignorance about a genre and its fans. Neither Siskel or Ebert appear to have actually sat through any of these movies they are so quick to dismiss as sleazy and misogynist. They show no awareness of "the Final Girl" who often survives to slay the "monster" herself, as well as suffering from the common misconception that it's only women killed in slasher films. Quite the contrary; studies show men are just as likely to die violent deaths on screen in horror movies as their female counterparts.
But I get it. As a fan of the genre since before I could tie my own shoes, I've come up against that kind of prejudice many, many times. Horror is a genre where the consumer is attacked as often as the content itself. Understanding the appeal factor of horror is difficult for some people to accept, people who will look at you with a wary expression as they ask "how can you read/watch that stuff"? As if we should be ashamed, as if we are somehow mentally warped or our moral compass dangerously askew. Don't worry, it isn't. Horror appeals to many of us for very solid, rational, non-psychopathic reasons, I swear. And it appeals just as equally to men as it does women. And that doesn't make the men misogynists, or the women failed feminists.
But I digress. Back to Rockoff. His goal here is to really champion for the slasher films and the deranged and disturbing pushing all the boundaries it can possibly think of exploitation films. And I wouldn't have had a problem with that. But it gets a bit repetitive and tiresome and a lot of the movies he winds up talking about are pretty obscure if you're not a complete and utter fanatic for everything underground and out of print (I'm not).
In his introduction, Rockoff promises to approach horror in a very personal essay, knitting together his experiences of the genre using memoir as a lens. I love that idea. I love hearing about people's personal reactions to movies or what was going on in their lives when. One of my favorites of these sorts of anecdotes came from my own mother. She was dating my father at the time of the theatrical release of The Exorcist.
It was a date movie for them (these are my genes). They had to park the car at the very back of the mall parking lot. When the movie let out after 11pm the mall was closed and the parking lot was almost empty. They walked to the dark, abandoned hinterland of the lot to their car. When my mother went to open the passenger door (this was 1970's Newfoundland - people rarely locked their car doors) a giant looming shadow of a man sat up in the back seat and groaned. My mother screamed. My father cursed (and probably shit himself). Turns out that while they were watching the movie, this guy stumbled out of the bar drunk and crawled into my parents car to pass out mistaking the car as belonging to his friend.
Rockoff has a few personal stories like this, humorous and charming, but not nearly enough of them. He can't help but slip into the film school analysis voice, reviewing and critiquing. Too much of the book's contents feel like grad school essays, a little pompous and righteous. In an effort to "legitimize" horror and testify to its importance and validity, Rockoff comes off sounding like a bit of a haughty dick.
Then there's some sections that just don't work at all, and their inclusion confounds me. Case in point -- in Chapter 5 "Sounds of the Devil" Rockoff talks about the (un)natural marriage of heavy metal music to horror movies. The two go together like PB&J in some ways, in other ways it's a misfit experiment gone awry. He raises a few interesting points and then inexplicably goes right off the reservation with a blow-by-blow account of the time in 1985 Tipper Gore helped found the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and brought the fight to Washington in the hopes of compelling the music industry to adopt a voluntary rating system warning of the explicit lyrics destined to corrupt and warp innocent children.
If you've made it to the end of this lengthy, rambling review I thank you. You are a good sport and too kind. I didn't hate this book but it failed to really engage me or entertain. I don't recommend it; instead, pop some popcorn, turn out the lights and cue up your favorite scary movie.
It seems I'm always late to these things. Humans of New York had long existed as a blog with tens of thousands of loyal followers by the time I discovIt seems I'm always late to these things. Humans of New York had long existed as a blog with tens of thousands of loyal followers by the time I discovered this book. It was a thrilling discovery all the same, and better late than never as the saying goes.
When I found out about the book I checked out the blog immediately starting about 10:30 at night. At 2 am I was still riveted. I literally could not stop looking. It's since become one of my newer addictions/obsessions. It appeals to the people watcher in me, to the girl who truly believes the right picture can be worth a thousand words, and the small town Canadian who imagines New York City as the epicenter of all that is gritty, inspiring, crazy and authentically human.
I think HONY is an inspired project by a beautiful mind. History told through the photographic lens has always been one of our most powerful, evocative mediums since its invention. I also love that Stanton has tried to put these photographs into some sort of context by the very human questions he asks of his subjects (and the illuminating -- sometimes heart-wrenching -- answers he receives).
If I'm ever stranded on a desert island, I want my copy of HONY to keep me tethered in some fundamental way to my human life and what it means to be human. ...more