Monday, April 30, 2012

April 2012 Books

I made my way through a HUGE pile of library books this month so there are many non-fiction books on the list again this month. I am now tired of non-fiction and am diving back into the huge pile of novels stacked up on the shelf next to my bed.

  • Inside the Mind of BTK: The True Story Behind the Thirty-Year Hunt for the Notorious Wichita Serial Killer by John Douglas
    • I like reading true crime books (and I noticed that the two I read this month both have the word "true" in their titles in case we think they are "fake" crime books I guess) and I haven't really picked one up in a while.
    • Note to self: do not read true crime books just before going to sleep. This book was creepy. Well, the murderer was creepy. But now safely in jail forever.
    • Nice closure after reading a short story by Stephen King, based on the BTK case, wherein he imagines how the wife of a serial killer might finds out about her husband.
    • B
  • Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case
    • I am a big fan of Jeff Jensen's, based on his writing for Entertainment Weekly, and this graphic novel was based on his dad's search for the title serial killer.
    • I wanted to like this but the story was convoluted and sometimes it just didn't make sense, seemingly skipping over things so that I felt lost while trying to understand what the artwork was trying to say. 
    • C
  • Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild by David Stenn
    • I read Stenn's biography of Jean Harlow several years ago and really enjoyed it. Harlow was a GREAT personality and it is tragic that she died so very young (only 26). I try to catch an occasional Jean Harlow movie on TCM every once in a while and I am never disappointed watching her. It's not that she was a great actress but she was such a presence that you can't really take your eyes off her whenever she's on the screen.
    • Clara Bow is much more of a mystery to us today. Her movies are almost never shown on TCM, probably because most of them were silents, so I haven't even seen one. She was famous for being the "It" Girl and, according to this book, was one of the biggest box office stars of her day.
    • Anyway, the book was interesting and Ms. Bow had a horrifyingly awful personal life.
    • B
  • Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel
    • All about the history of plastic and how it is such a huge part of our lives. The story is told through eight plastic products: comb, water bottle, Frisbee, IV bag, lighter, credit card, chair and bag. These eight items also make up the title word on the cover!
    •  We learn about the chemistry of plastic and the inventions of all eight items. Plastic IV bags, for instance, were a huge improvement over the glass bottles used formerly. IV fluids dispensed from glass via gravity which meant they needed to be hung higher over a patient's bed. This made them extremely dangerous in combat hospitals. Not to mention all the broken glass.
    • B+
  • The Alice Behind Wonderland by Simon Winchester
    • This tells the story of the Reverend Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, and Alice Liddell, the girl for whom he wrote the Wonderland tales.
    • It focuses on Dodgson's photography of Alice Liddell, specifically of the photo on the cover of the book.
    • We learn about the invention of photography and we learn what happened to Alice after those years.
      • Apparently Reverend Dodgson and the Liddells had some sort of falling out but no one knows why. Dodgson kept a daily diary but the months covering the period of estrangement were excised and destroyed by his heirs. Stupid heirs.
      • Speculation today generally focuses on whether Dodgson had a thing for little girls. It's easy to imagine that from our modern perspective. He took photographs of young girls, often while they were unclothed but with their mother's permission. Obviously times were different.
        • I was just going to write that there are no mothers today who would give permission for anyone to photograph theirs daughters unclothed but watching one clip of "Toddlers and Tiaras" makes you wonder if that's really true after all. Sad.
    • I wish the book had included more photographs than just the one on the cover as the narrative describes many of Dodgson's photographs. Thank you Internet!
    • B
  • Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly
    • Kelly, a 50-year-old freelance writer feeling the sting of recession via less assignments, gets a job at a North Face store in her local mall.
    • She writes about how hard the work is, the people she works with and the customers she interacts with and then complains some more about how hard it is.
      • Did I mention she only worked one shift a week?
      • It's hard to take it all seriously when she didn't NEED to work this job while some of her coworkers are working as many shifts as possible while using public transportation just to get to work.
    • One of her statistics says that malls have turnover each year of 100%. This is based on the fact that employees get minimal (if any) training or support from corporate offices. They DO get minimum wage though. So most people who work retail move to a better job as soon as one comes along.
    • We read a lot about the "customers from hell" who frequent the upscale mall where North Face is located.
    • And you can hardly call your career in retailing "unintentional" when you know going in you'll be taking notes and writing an expose on the whole thing.
    • C-
  • At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
    • Mr. Bryson and his family purchase a former vicarage in England and via its layout and floor plan gives us a history of humanity.
      • For example, what's a cabinet? A place to store things that usually has a door. Then why do we call it the President's Cabinet? 
        • Cabinet meant little cabin, a small room off the hall where the king (or lord or whatever leader) met with his advisers for some privacy. Who knew?!
    • We learn about cleanliness via the bathroom, not a big concept until relatively modern times. Most people NEVER bathed in their lifetimes! Bleah. One more reason NOT to go back in a time machine if you ask me!
    • I loved this book!
    • A+
  • American History Revised: 200 Startling Facts That Never Made it into the Textbooks by Seymour Morris Jr.
    • I usually love these kind of books. But this one, well no.
    • About 10 pages in the author starts talking about "Gone With the Wind" (movie) and says how it didn't even win any Academy Awards. The Best Picture that year was "Wuthering Heights". Um, not even close. "GWTW" won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Color Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Editing. "Wuthering Heights" won Best Black & White Cinematography and that's all.
    • So now I'm on my guard as I read. Then I read that Abraham Lincoln was preparing to give the Gettysburg Address in 1862, a year before the actual Battle of Gettysburg was fought. And that John F. Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for Why England Slept even though he really won it years later with Profiles in Courage.
    • F
  • Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century by Michael Hiltzik
    • I was going to write that this book was "kind of dry" but that would be a really bad pun.
    • Interesting but a slog. Without the Hoover Dam the American Southwest might not have developed as much as it has. The dam supplies electrical power to a huge part of the area and its water made possible the farming of the Imperial Valley, naturally a desert area.
    • Most interesting fact: The first death on the Hoover Dam project was a surveyor, J.G. Tierney, died in 1922 while looking for the best dam site. Exactly thirteen years later the last man died on the project: Patrick Tierney, son of J.G. Tierney.
      • Not a single mention of Mrs. Tierney, however, who must have hated the Hoover Dam with every fiber of her being after losing both her husband AND son to it.
    • C+
  • The Sexual History of London: From Roman Londinium to the Swinging City -- Lust, Vice and Desire Across the Ages by Catharine Arnold
    • The title pretty much sums this one up: it was FASCINATING!
    • Who doesn't love to learn more about the history of prostitution?
    • All it makes me think is that there has always been prostitution and there always will be. WHY don't people get off their high horses and figure out a way to decriminalize it? Or at least make the punishments more severe for those who partake of the services of a hooker? Supply and demand, people, supply and demand. 
      • If only it was possible to do away with child prostitution and sex slavery while allowing those women who CHOOSE to sell their favors to do so. But this will never happen, Nevada brothels being the lone exception I guess.
    • B+
  • Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings
    • Mr. Jennings is famous for his record winning streak on "Jeopardy".
    • He has a very snarky writing style which gets annoying fast but the content is interesting, if you like geography (and I do).
    • We used to learn geography in school. It is a subject that encompasses more than just maps. You learn about populations, imports/exports, natural resources, climates, ecology and much more. At some point they changed geography into "social studies".
    • I just did some quick research on the 'net and found a 2006 survey of Americans ages 18-24 and 33% couldn't locate Louisiana on a map. (Morons.) And 47% couldn't locate the country of India. Just one more way Americans are becoming dumber with every passing year.
    • I had no idea what geocaching was before I read this book. I said this to CPA Boy and he replied, "Yeah, where they hide things and you find it with GPS." My husband is a man of much hidden knowledge!
    • B-
  • Lulu in Hollywood by Louise Brooks
    • I picked this up as kind of a companion to the Clara Bow book because Louise Brooks is mentioned a lot, generally praising Clara, so I figured her book would go into more depth of her views. It did not.
    • It did cover her time in Hollywood, though her best and most well-known films were made in Europe. Her story is interesting but the book is more scattered, skimming over years of her life with no real detail. At one point, suddenly, she is married to a person mentioned zero times up to that point. 
    • I had already read how she was such a great writer and I just don't agree. Here narratives are choppy and it's not always easy to follow the story.
    • I will stick to watching her famous movie: "Pandora's Box" (her most famous role as Lulu).
    • C-
  • The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins
    • I had never heard of this case, about a dismembered body found in New York City. The parts were found in different areas (the head remained stubbornly missing) and led to a man and woman who had participated in a crime of passion. The man got the electric chair and the woman 9 years in prison.
      • The crime is the central tale by which to hang the somewhat more interesting tale of how William Randolph Hearst's newspaper, the New York Journal, began competing with Joseph Pulitzer's New York World.
      • The competition between the papers led to grisly searches for the poor victim's head, all covered in gory detail in the newspapers.
    • In those days the newspapermen (and they were almost ALL men) would do anything for a story: plant (fake) evidence, lease the entire building where a crime had been committed to keep the rivals out, and so on. 
    • Hearst had enough money to fund these gambits and it led to even more egregious behavior on his part, mainly drumming up propaganda to jump start the Spanish-American War (Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain!). 
    • B
  • Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
    • Cute. More a humor book than a memoir but it's not really going to make anyone laugh out loud.
    • I like Ellen, not just because she's a fellow Louisianan! But I am not a daytime TV watcher in general (except for my late, lamented soap opera "As the World Turns") so I don't see her talk show except maybe a couple of times a year.
    • B-
 The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
    • This is a children's book and I can see why Martin Scorsese wanted to film it. It's a very visual story, even if you removed the illustrations.
    • The illustrations will go for several pages, perhaps from a wide shot of Paris all the way, page-by-page, to a closeup of an eyeball. This illustration style made the 500+ page book zoom by in about an hour for me.
    • I have seen several of Georges Melies' films, including his most famous "A Trip to the Moon" where the rocket lands in the moon's eye. Literally.
    • I still really want to see the movie but will need to wait for the DVD or hope it's on HBO eventually.
    • B+
  • The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
    • Lady Chardonnay raved about these books a while back so I was able to snag the first few in the series from Paperback Swap. This is the first book.
    • The story is told in first person by Isabel Spellman, the adult daughter of a family of private investigators. Isabel has a strong love for "Get Smart" which is also probably my favorite TV show from the 1960s ("Bewitched" is probably next on the list, if you were wondering).
      • I recognized every episode description of "Get Smart" she refers to in the book! But I do think it was annoying how she footnotes EVERY SINGLE MENTION of KAOS with "The International Organization of Evil." Um, I read the first footnote so I didn't need six or seven more to reiterate what you already told me.
    • It was cute and a quick read so I will definitely read the next books in the series.
    • B+
  • 16 books read
  • 14 non-fiction
    • 3 biography
    • 3 true crime
    • 8 general
  • 2 fiction
    • 1 children's
    • 1 mystery
  • Grades
    • A: 1 (1 A+)
    • B: 10 (4 B+, 4 B, 2 B-)
    • C: 4 (1 C+, 1 C, 1 C-)
    • F: 1 (the first F of the year!)
Happy reading!


  1. I wanted to like this review but it was convoluted and sometimes it just didn't make sense, seemingly skipping over things so that I felt lost while trying to understand what the reviwer was trying to say.I had no trouble at all following the story-and since this Graphic Novel has been nominated for 2 Eisner Awards-seems like others didn't either.

  2. Would that be KAOS, an international organization of evil, and Delaware corporation? I have to agree with the reviewer, not the anonymous commenter, on GRK. No one is arguing about the art, just the content, or lack thereof.

  3. Wow, you read a lot this month! And we actually have some overlap for once (besides the Spellmans -- I'm so psyched you're reading those! You're the third person I've turned on to the series; I swear Lisa Lutz should pay me royalties). I read the Clara Bow book for my encyclopedia article and also loved it, and I felt similarly about Lulu -- wanted to love it, was mostly quite bored.

    You can see Clara Bow in "Wings" easily enough, but you're right -- she's hard to find otherwise, as most of her films turned to dust. Which KILLS me. I saw "It" on Turner Classic Movies, and then the one film of hers (name escapes me) that Netflix offers (so that's another option for you). She's well worth watching, though it is sad to see her luminous, animated face and think about her awful offstage life.

    Your "F" book sounds...I can't even come up with a word. How did such a thing get published???

    As for "there has always been prostitution and always will be," I must gently disagree. Substitute "poverty" for "prostitution," and then I'm there. Do rich girls decide to be prostitutes? I don't think anyone goes into it thinking, "Awesome career move!" (High-paid escort feels a little different.) But I totally agree that if anyone's going to be punished, it should be the johns, not the prostitutes.

    Enjoy your pile of fiction! I'm still slogging through "The Admission," which is a perfectly good book and I am enjoying it, really; it's just not a "must read"! But it's getting written up all over the place, so I feel like I should finish.