No Matter the Wreckage (CBR10 #18)

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I struggle with poetry. Reading it never has the same effect as listening to it, even when I read it aloud to myself. But, since April is National Poetry Month I thought I’d give it another shot. In an example of past me having current me’s back, one of the books I picked out for last year’s Read Harder challenge that I never got to was No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay and it is a book of poems. I don’t know how I either a) hadn’t noticed or b) forgot that it was, because I was downright surprised when I was going through my shelves prepping April’s reading list to discover that I could knock off two birds with one slim volume.

The other bit of good fortune? I was already familiar with Sarah Kay’s work and didn’t know. I had seen her spoken word performances over the years and loved them. Spoken word is really much more my speed, so reading a collection based out of that practice made these poems so much more accessible to me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. There’s something to the freeform nature of her work, of the way in which it is subject driven, a lot like Neruda’s Odes to Opposites, which helped my brain hold on.

Not that every poem in the collection is a knockout for me. I did dog ear (it’s my copy I purchased from an independent publisher, I can do what I want!) a few poems to come back to because they hit me in my feels. I don’t know that I’m doing a great job of selling you on this book, but in his pre-Hamilton days Lin-Manuel Miranda gave her a pull quote for the back cover (!) which reads in part “In this collection she will give you moments so intimate and beautifully rendered you will come to know them as your own.”

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Not bad at all for a fellow I.B. kid.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

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Missoula (CBR10 #17)

Rape culture is real.

But that doesn’t make me want to face it any more than I already have to in my life. I have had this book on my to read list since it was published in 2015.However I didn’t read it then, instead I picked up Into Thin Air to get a taste of Krakauer’s style before jumping into the deep end so to speak.  I have comments across many Cannonball Read reviews of this book saying that I’m going to tackle it in the coming months, and each time I found an excuse to put if off a few more months, until three years elapsed and I could no longer justify to myself not picking up Missoula.

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Research shows that the vast majority of rapes will be committed by someone who is known to the victim, and likely someone they trust. On top of that, the person will be trusted because there is no single, reliable way to identify a rapist until they have committed an act of sexual violence. Rapists generally have no sense that their actions do in fact qualify them as a rapist and imagine some other, larger, scarier boogeyman – some “other”- as the true danger without realizing that the behavior they accept as “normal” based on our culture is in fact, not. Our society raises sexually aggressive men and shrouds them in the cover of “boys will be boys”.

In Missoula, Jon Krakauer follows several rape victims and recounts their stories from rape to prosecution in order to illustrate how our justice and educational systems are broken, and how it is affecting rape victims, their families, and ultimately, perpetuating a culture that shelters the rapists, who statistically will almost all go on to assault again. It is upsetting*, rage-inducing stuff. It is also important reading.

*I do not suggest this book for someone who has experienced sexual trauma or is suffering from PTSD. I do suggest it for absolutely everyone else.

Krakauer is an astounding writer; he brings a non-biased accounting that leaves no doubt as to the severe, life-altering consequences for the victims as they pursue their quests for justice. Meticulous research serves as the backbone of this book and Krakauer’s forthright style is the perfect fit for examining the testimony and transcripts that make up the evidence in the highlighted cases. Krakauer does very little editorializing, because the documents speak for themselves. Importantly he chose Missoula because there was a paper trail he could base the book on and held himself to a three person corroboration threshold for including things in the book. There is so much more that didn’t make the book because he didn’t have the third person, and didn’t feel comfortable reporting without it.

Here is the new thing I learned, the thing I did not properly understand and that leaves me infuriated (not that most of the information in this book didn’t leave me infuriated and necessitate that I take a step away from the book every so often) is that across this country prosecutors are declining to prosecute cases referred to them by police departments in staggering numbers. In Missoula during the window in which they were being investigated by the Department of Justice, January 2008 to April 2012, 114 reports of sexual assault of adult women were referred by the Missoula Police Department to the Missoula County Attorney’s office. Of those only 14 were filed by the County Attorney for prosecution. FOURTEEN. The police found probable cause to pursue a case following an investigation for 114 cases and the County Attorney’s office agreed approximately 12% of the time. Twelve percent. The DOJ found 350 reported sexual assaults from January 2008 to May 2012, and the 236 were not referred not because they were found to be false or specious, but rather the vast, vast majority were not pursued because there was too little evidence for the police to determine probable cause. Taken at that level only 4% of all sexual assaults even made it to court.

The story of Missoula is in many ways the story of the average American city, its stats line up with the national average, and all of that should upset us greatly. I don’t know exactly how to end this review, as I am well and truly in my emotions about this book. Perhaps that is the best response I can give it at this time.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (CBR10 #14)

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I was floored by this book. I’m glad that I was able to sit and read it over the course of one day, to really sink into it and give it my full attention. Yesterday my region was hit by our fourth nor’easter of the month (seriously, I’m ready for second winter and March to find the exit) and since my job often makes us come into work in terrible weather conditions, and I live in a pretty inaccessible place, I spend most snow days staying in the guest room of the lovely Ale and her husband. Bonus for me was that I had a true crime book to read about a serial rapist and murderer who has not been caught and I was going to spend daylight hours with people, one of whom is a police officer. Huzzah!

I like true crime, but I usually get my fix via television or podcasts. I did a quick search of my books for the past few years and it looks like I’ve only read one since I started Cannonball Read – The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse. That book, and my enjoyment of it, has a lot in common with I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. Michelle McNamara took her obsession with the Golden State Killer and made it accessible to the rest of us, in beautifully crisp chapters built on her exquisite prose. Her writing is chock full of detail, but it never feels overwhelming . McNamara crafts the world of the Golden State Killer, and finds the balance between the facts of the case and making meaning from them. The writing is never lurid, but it doesn’t flinch from the truth of the crimes committed. But most of all the entire book I infused with a sense of curiosity, of wanting to know the truth, the answer.

I imagine that Ms. McNamara would have been a great conversationalist, but not necessarily in the way we generally use that term. We usually mean that someone is great at talking about anything, but my favorite kind of conversationalist is someone who is able to weave together several topics to elucidate a larger concept. The raconteurs.  Michelle McNamara was one of those people, and her posthumously published book introduces us to a fantastic writer with an enormous gift for research who was taken from us too soon.

I’m not the most likely candidate for this book: I never read Ms. McNamara’s website, True Crime Diary, and I’m not overly familiar with the Golden State Killer or any other monikered killers.  I did read Ms. McNamara’s article “In the Footsteps of a Killer” for L.A. Magazine, but my memory of it is vague.  I was concerned before I started this book that the unsolved nature of the crimes would leave me feeling empty, or depressed, and while the very nature of GSK’s crimes (over 50 rapes and 10 rather gruesome murders) did affect me greatly McNamara structured her narrative in a way where the not knowing isn’t a detractor it is instead just another facet of the story.

My big take aways from this one? People don’t call the police enough for legitimate issues and we are living during the great changing of the tide for cold cases. May the officers on the case and the amateur sleuths aiding them be successful, and may the victims have healing.

Five unapologetic stars for a book that made me feel why introducing me to a lovely person and a truly terrible one, and all the ones in between.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review them how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Born a Crime (CBR10 #4)

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Last year there were several glowing reviews of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime at Cannonball Read. Based on positive word of mouth I had already picked up the audio version which Noah narrates himself. I was intrigued by Noah – we’re the same age (well, I’m almost exactly a year older) but our lives couldn’t be more different, and I love a good memoir.

For the many reasons life throws your way I did not manage to listen to Born a Crime in 2017. However, fast forward to New Year’s where I am terribly sick, it was ridiculously cold, and the friends I was staying with decided to stay in and do nothing but watch Netflix and read books (there are many reasons why these women are some of my favorite humans on the planet) and we ended up watching several of Trevor Noah’s specials, and a documentary called You Laugh But It’s True which features a baby-faced 25 year old Noah breaking into the comedy scene and putting on his first one man show, The Daywalker. I was immediately mesmerized by the trajectory of this man’s career. In less than 10 years he went from comedian to respected host of The Daily Show.  (Full Disclosure, I have never watched The Daily Show with either Jon Stewart or Trevor Noah as host outside clips here and there.)

The documentary hit on some of the same stories he revisited in the book, giving a careful overview of what is was like to grow up in South Africa. In Born a Crime Noah stops being careful and instead explains in detail the realities of his life, the lives of his friends, and his mother. Noah’s mom Patricia plays a large part of his life and it is reflected in the book. I feel as though I know as much about Patricia Noah as I do about Trevor at the end of the book. She is simply amazing. Read this book, go to Netflix and find You Laugh But It’s True so that you can but faces and voices to names and see the world that Noah so lovingly recreates in his writing. The book has some pacing issues, but this is a great memoir and a fascinating look at an interesting life.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail (CBR10 #3)

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Sometimes it pays to remember the good ideas cannonballers and friends have so you can steal them outright to suit your purposes. You all should go back and read denesteak’s brilliant review from last January, she unpacks the world through her powerful viewpoint and it is more than worth your time. When I had a few hours to myself on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the States I remembered Dene’s review and the fact that I’m supposed to be finding a single sitting book for the Read Harder Challenge and off to the internet I went.

I am ashamed to admit that I had previously never read Dr. King’s full letter.  Unfortunately this work is as prescient as it was nearly 55 years ago when Dr. King was imprisoned in the jail in Bombingham. As I mentioned, I intentionally read it all in one go for the Read Harder Challenge and it felt like being hit repeatedly by waves. My favorite thing to do at the beach (besides read under an umbrella) is to jump waves. Sometimes they lift you up, if you time your jump just right you feel as if you are flying. However, if you mistime your jump, or if the wave is too large, you are slammed by the force of nature and sent sputtering towards shore, spitting water as you resurface.

What Dr. King was saying in this supremely eloquent letter gave much the same feeling. I was lifted by his resilience, by his steadfast knowledge of the rightness of his actions. I was also slammed back towards shore with how little has really been accomplished. It has been swirling around me for quite a while, all that remains undone and all those who could and should be doing more. Moderate whites (whom Dr. King calls out in some of the most stirring language in the letter) still do not pull their weight. I hope that you will take the time and read the full work. It is tempting to feel as though you know what Dr. King has said because so many famous quotes are pulled from this piece of writing. But Dr. King was a titan of oratory and this letter builds and builds and builds to a crescendo of meaning, and as Dene points out, supreme amounts of shade.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend. Join us, won’t you?

 

An Age of License: a Travelogue (CBR10 #2)

After not completing last year’s Book Riot Read Harder Challenge I am back at it again for 2018 with a new set of challenges. My first stop was seeing if any of the books I did not manage in 2017 would suit a 2018 challenge, and low and behold the book I had picked out for last year’s task 8: Read a Travel Memoir would suit this year’s task 4: Read a Comic Written and Drawn by the Same Person.

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A couple of years ago I read and enjoyed Relish and was looking forward to another visit with Lucy Knisley. An Age of License chronicles approximately a month of Knisley’s life in the fall of 2011 when she cobbled together a few segments of travel to allow herself time to roam around Europe (specifically Norway, Sweden, Germany, and France). It is also a look at a woman in her mid-twenties flailing about a bit, if you’ll forgive the less than complementary descriptor.

Knisley through her own eyes is finding her footing professionally, mourning the end of a relationship, settling herself into a new city, and taking off to see a bit of the world and a boy she met. We join her as she files away a variety of new peple, new experiences, and ruminates on how to settle into her adulthood. My experience with Knisley’s art is rather limited, but one of the issues I had with Relish was that the panels were so tightly drawn, with so much happening in each panel. In An Age of License Knisley spreads out a bit, using the white space to help foster the feeling of floating in the ether that she is experiencing in her month of travel. I prefer this visual style, but the narrative is thinner than I would have hoped.

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A good, quick read, but not too much more.

August (CBR9 #73)

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For the first time in three years I am giving up on the Read Harder Challenge. Changing jobs in November (yay!) and the coming holiday bonanza has cut more severely than I anticipated into my reading time. I have knocked my review goal down to 75 from 78 and jettisoned four books from my to read list that would have completed this year’s challenge. (Expect to see some of them next year.)

The book I didn’t purge was this one, August. One of the challenges was to read a book set in Central or South America written by a Central or South American author. To me the easy choice was to expand my reading of works in translation, and somewhere in my travels I happened across August which is written by and author from and set in Argentina. Briefly the book is about a woman returning to the small town she grew up in, and while staying in the room of her deceased best friend coming to terms with herself and her life. While this book straddles the line with one of my least favorite tenses (first person present) it is really one woman confessing to her dead friend all the ways life is messing her up, and ruminating on what to do about them.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Romina Paula is under 40. Everyone I know in our early to mid-30s either is or has recently struggled in some way with the various emotions and family landscapes that Paula explores in this work. I hope this book does well enough that some of her other works will be translated, I would love to see what one of her plays is like.

I’ll be giving the Read Harder challenge a go again in 2018 (the tasks are already up and I’m already a bit concerned with finding the right books for it and me), I just have to remember to make sure I pace myself better and not save so many for the last three months of the year.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for our 10th Read is open now, you can join us to raise money for the American Cancer Society by reading what you want, reviewing it how you see fit (with a few guidelines), and posting and sharing on our main page. I hope you will!