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I finished The Round House, Louise Erdrich. I loved it. An Indian woman is violently raped on the reservation, and her son, now grown, narrates the story of how his thirteen year old self dealt with it. There’s lots about family and friendship and of course Indian legal issues. The relationships the kid has with his friends and family feel really true. I loved it even though it has one of my most hated tropes, kids trying to solve a (potentially dangerous) situation on their own. The descriptions of ghosts and the tales his grandfather tells are perfectly done, and fit neatly into the images of the rez and his world where spiritual and practical things meet. There are many beautiful images of people and Indian lives, like a description of older women dressing up and then dancing gracefully at a pow wow.

Not sure what I'm going to read next. Probably the mystery I mentioned in my last post.
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Watch the North Wind Rise, Robert Graves. A poet from our time (1949) is transported years into the future, which is now a peaceful, Goddess worshipping world culture where money, technology, and wars have been eliminated and people live in rural villages and in defined social groups. I love utopia/dystopia fiction, and part of what I love is being dropped into this alternate world and figuring out how things work. This one doesn’t have that because from when he arrives, everything is explained to him (and us.) I don’t believe for a second that this culture would work; I don’t have that much faith in humanity, but it’s interesting to speculate. What made it a page turner was the interactions between the protagonist and other characters including a troublesome woman from his past who has somehow appeared in the future with him. But that sort of fizzled out and it was ultimately kind of philosophical musing about Goddess culture and good and evil, which was okay (especially because of my acquaintance with the Goddess) but eh.

Now I'm reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich and really enjoying it. About a crime on a reservation in North Dakota and the narrator, the victim's son, reacting to it. There's a lot of great stuff about family and friendship, not to mention issues about crimes that happen to Indian people.

After that I'm going to read The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths, a mystery somebody recommended.
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Kay Thompson, Sam Irwin. To refresh your memory, Kay Thompson trained as a singer and pianist, started out as a singer on the radio, and began doing arrangements. She had several radio shows, then moved on to Broadway, where she wrote and arranged songs but never hit the big time as an actress. She went to MGM in the 40s, where she did arrangements and coached singers like Lena Horne and Judy Garland. She was Liza Minelli's godmother. Then she left the studio to sing and dance in a nightclub act with the Andy Williams and his brothers. Naturally, she arranged all their music and choreographed their dancing in a new energetic style - by the way, she and Andy were lovers. The act was a huge hit in New York and Las Vegas. Around 1955 she finally got around to writing a book about the character she'd drop into to make her friends laugh, a little girl named Eloise. She was a huge hit, too, and Kay wrote several sequels. Somewhere in there she finally got a worthy movie role, the fashion editor in "Funny Face". She never got another good movie role and eventually stopped doing cabaret, but in 1973 she directed a legendary fashion show of American designers at Versailles. When Judy Garland died, she stepped up to manage her funeral and Liza says she was the person who stood behind her and her sister with her arms around them. Liza was a loyal friend, too; in Kay’s last years she had her move in to her apartment.
I really enjoyed this biography. Sam Irwin, who started out as Brian De Palma's assistant and went on to direct and produce movies including one of my favorites, Gods and Monsters, was hired to direct a documentary on the history of Eloise, and once he started interviewing people, he realized her story should be a book and that he had the passion to do it. He had no idea how big the project would be! He talked to what seems like hundreds of people - Kay knew everybody in Hollywood and on Broadway - and learned her family history from her niece and nephew. Her journey through radio and on to Hollywood has lots of great stories - she had a feud with Mary Martin, of all people - and while Irwin clearly loves her, he doesn't hesitate to point out when she made bad decisions or was her own worst enemy.
The theme that emerges in Kay's later years is that while she had tremendous musical and acting talent, she was a perfectionist who had to be in control. Noel Coward wanted her for the role of Madame Arcati in a musical version of Blythe Spirit and to star in Sail Away, another Broadway show, but she refused these and other roles. She claimed she had a complex about working on Broadway because of being let go from shows when she was starting out; the truth was she just couldn't commit to anything if she couldn't be in charge. She was almost signed as the friend of Rosalind Russell in the movie version of Auntie Mame but made so many demands that she was replaced by Coral Browne. There are many stories like that. As for her books, Hilary Knight, the illustrator of Eloise, eventually refused to work with her because she was so insistent on doing things her way. It's frustrating that for whatever reason, she didn't make more movies or write more books. I wish I'd known her!
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I've just started Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise by Sam Irvin. Back to a nice relaxing biography. I know about Kay Thompson as a big figure in stage & screen, though I don't think I've ever seen Funny Face because I'm the only woman in the world who doesn't love Audrey Hepburn. I discovered the Eloise books when I was "too old" for picture books, and love them then and now.
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I finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Psycho thriller told in separate threads by a husband and wife. The wife goes missing, the husband is accused and then there are some fun twists and turns.

I liked it, but I think my expectations were too high - I wasn't as surprised by the first twist as I might have been, though it worked great, then I expected even more twists than the book actually had. I thought a particular character would be more involved, but no.

I thought the ending was pretty perfect.

As far as my challenges around fiction go, this was an easy one - no deep meanings or sublties for me to wonder about.

I can't get the cut to work, so spoiler stuff below.

I see a lot of people didn't like how it ended; I'm guessing they wanted to see some kind of dramatic resolution with somebody getting killed (BURN THE WITCH!) or some other kind of closure. But I thought it was just right. He's scared of her... but fascinated, can't imagine being with a less intelligent woman. She wants his adoration. They're going to be together forever. The one thing I didn't really buy was her getting pregnant from his discarded wank-off tissues - I don't think sperm can actually live that long. Plus I didn't believe he really wanted to be a father. But I think it will all work out.
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Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, Apostolos K. Doxiadēs. Well the fact that it took me months to finish this should tell you how much I liked it. The parts about Bertrand Russell's childhood and life were interesting, but the parts about logic, not so much. I didn't really like the drawing, either.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan. A group of linked stories, many of which are about a woman named Sasha. They're all entertaining, some more than others. There are themes of being authentic and true to yourself in a lot of them, but that just didn't speak to me - either I'm already living authentically or I'm a phony, I guess. Anyway, I didn't love it. It started out fine but became a chore to finish. I think part of it was that the trajectory of her life seemed disappointing to me (marriage and kids, and the Powerpoint diary of one of them was just tiresome and gimmicky.) Maybe the bigger problem was that a big issue of hers introduced in the first story (her stealing) never really got explained, unless I missed something, which is certainly possible.

Edited a few days later to add: Okay, I listened to this podcast of people discussing it and it reminded me of many of the book's subtler points, including maybe an explanation of her stealing, and it made me realize there were a lot of things I like about it. So, it gets another star. It really is a book that works best if you read it in one go, instead of a little every day, as I did. http://fuzzytypewriter.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/ft-podcast-fuzzy-typewriter-book-club-a-visit-from-the-goon-squad/

Now I'm reading Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn. Wife goes missing, it looks like the husband killed her but he says he didn't. And then there are twists. I'm liking it a lot and want to sit down to finish it tonight, which doesn't happen very often for me.
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Finished The Beautiful Visit, Elizabeth Jane Howard's first book. She died recently; I read her Cazalet Chronicles a few years ago and loved them, and didn't realize till I read the obits that there's a new book in the series. I'd had this one, unread, so it appealed. It's a memoir by a young girl in the years before and after World War I. I liked it a lot; she's good at describing thought processes and feelings. Framing the story is a visit she makes to some happy and glamorous cousins, which makes her question her own life and seek more, and another visit years later. There are some odd and memorable characters that she meets along the way, and she succeeds in conveying some of the horrors of WWI with deftness.

It has a few first-book problems with a rather unbelievable love affair but what the hell, it's sweet and moving even if it strained credulity. There were a couple of superb moments that made me put it down to think for a bit, which I love.

Now reading A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan, because I'm trying to read more fiction (it's challenging) and I liked The Keep when I read it years ago. So far I'm finding it so-so; I just can't care about men's erectile difficulties and I can't relate to 9-11 sadness. I don't have to like protagonists but I have to carea bout them. Also I know I read part of it in the New Yorker (probably) already so I'm sort of waiting for something new to happen.
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Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind, Margalit Fox. There is a Bedouin village in Israel where, because of intermarriage, so many people are Deaf that everyone uses Sign. Because the village is isolated, the village’s language arose there, independent of other languages and other versions of Sign, so it’s being studied by linguists seeking to understand how human language instinct works. The book’s chapters alternate between discussion of linguistics and narrative about the linguists’ work in the town. I know some about Deaf culture and the history of Sign from other books, but the linguistic stuff is really great. Ms Fox is a senior writer for the New York Times who writes the best obituaries and I wish we were related.

Tomi: A Childhood Under the Nazis, Tomi Ungerer
I first encountered Tomi Ungerer when I saw his very dirty cartoons in Evergreen Review in the late 60s so it came as quite a surprise to me to find out years later that he's a respected children's book illustrator. Anyway, this book is a memoir of his childhood in Alsace during the German occupation. Appropriately, it's also a scrapbook of his drawings and of photos and ephemera of that era. His father died when he was around four years old and he drew from an early age. An early drawing is of Mickey Mouse (later condemned as degenerate art by the Nazis) and later ones show caricatures of friends, school days, German occupiers and depictions of battles as the war got closer to home. The occupation began when he was nine. Everyone had to start speaking German and even had to change their names from French forms to German ones. He includes pages from his copybook where the kids had to write out quotations from the Fuher and do drawings of swastika flags and other symbols. Another poster (not by him) shows the German broom sweeping away "Gallic trash" like Jeanne d'Arc and the rooster symbol of France, showing how Alsace is returning to its Germanic roots at last. Of course the Alsatians identified themselves with Alsace, neither France nor Germany.

Ungerer has some good stories about how his pretty, clever mother outwitted the Nazis and collaborators - accused (accurately) of speaking French at home, she went to the general's office and said something like "Yes, yes we are speaking French in our home - because when the glorious Fatherland finishes conquering France, who will be able to educate the French about the beauty and splendor of the Third Reich??" (etc., etc.) which of course charmed the general so much he gave the family carte blanch to speak French. The book ends with the Americans defeating the Nazis and treating prisoners as badly as the Germans had treated French prisoners, which Ungerer observes with sadness. Now I'd like him to write a book about how he came to America with a suitcase and $40.

Elizabeth Jane Howard died; I read her Cazalet Chronicles a few years ago and loved them, and didn't realize till I read the obits that there is a new book in the series. Since I don't have that yet, I've just started her first book, The Beautiful Visit.
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I finished The Emperor of Maladies, the book about cancer and cancer research. As a layperson who doesn't know a lot about this, and a person who hasn't had much experience with friends or relatives with cancer or any experience with it myself (except for one puny skin cancer), I found it very interesting. The science was on a level I could understand, which was good. A friend felt it was badly edited and I agree a bit, but not enough to bother me.

I've just started Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind, by Margalit Fox, about a village in Israel where so many people are deaf that everyone uses sign. She's the terrific writer of many obits in the New York Times.
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I'm still reading the biography of Tony Perkins and enjoying it. He's in college and starting to realize he might be gay, and it's 1951 so not a great time for that.

We're going on vacation starting Saturday so I'm enjoying picking too many books to take along. I like having a choice even if it means dragging them around.
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I'm still reading The Knife of Never Letting Go and to be honest, not loving it. I have to see how it ends, but I don't think I'll read the sequels. Meanwhile, I read some other things.

Big Questions, Anders Nilsen. I wasn't going to buy this because it was fairly expensive, even used, but I kept flipping through it and couldn't stop reading it, so I had to. Then it took me almost a year to read it.
It's a doorstop sized graphic novel drawn in the ligne claire (clear line) style I love. I liked it a lot but I can't explain what it's about. Some finches and their interactions; a pilot who crashes; the birds think he’s emerged from an egg and that they should feed him; a retarded boy whose grandmother dies, leaving him to wander; a finch who is taken under the earth by a serpent.

Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See, Francois Mouly. The stories behind New Yorker covers that did or did-n't make the final cut, for various reasons. En-joyable but not terrific. I probably shouldn’t have bought this and am not sure if I’ll keep it.

The Polaroid Book: Selections from the Polaroid Collections of Photography, Steve Crist. Photos from the collection, covering a wide variety of subjects and techniques. Some abstract, some manipulated. We used to do that in the 80s - I wonder where those photos are now? Somewhere in my garage.

After I finish Knife I think I'm going to read a biography of Tony Perkins.
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I finished The Intuitionist; two stars. My review:

Novel set in a universe in which elevators seem to be the highest form of technology, and there are disputes between two schools of inspectors, the Intuitionists and the Empiricists. Lila Mae Watson, the city's first female black inspector, is being framed for an elevator crash designed to show up the Intuitionists. We're in a city that's clearly New York, in a era when segregation is just ending. I'm not sure I got all the subtext. I liked its quirkiness, the alternate universe, but ultimately I was bored and disappointed. I think I missed its subtleties and metaphysics. Okay, elevators are a way to rise, and being an elevator inspector is a rise in status, but beyond that I got nothing. There are a couple of big revelations, one of them about people not being what they seem; I couldn't discern the significance of the other.

Now I'm reading The Knife of Never Letting Go and am enjoying, as usual, viewing a different world and society. So far it's pretty intense and the tension is getting to me.
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I'm reading The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead. It's an odd novel set in a universe in which elevators seem to be the highest form of technology, and there are disputes between two schools of inspectors, the Intuitionists and the Empiricists. Lila Mae Watson, the city's first female black inspector, is being framed for an elevator crash designed to show up the Intuitionists.

It's kind of a whodunit about a search for lost blueprints from a visionary Intuitionist designer, with thugs and spys. I'm not sure I get all the subtext, but it's interesting.
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I finished Harriet Said.... Beryl Bainbridge's first novel, unpublished till later in her career. It's rather odd, about two precocious girls who prey on an older man. The narrator is in thrall to Harriet, her friend directs their schemes and the diary entries where they write about their adventures. For me it had a lot of personal resonance, so I liked it. There is a convincing aura of menace over the whole thing that I enjoyed too.
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At long last I've finished The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding. This is what a non-fiction books should be: a wonderful, absorbing history book. He starts by describing Georgian England and the many crimes that could get you locked up or hanged. (He points out that there were more slang words associated with hanging than with sex.) The jails were full, so they put hulks of battleships in the Thames and filled them with prisoners. (Any of this sound familiar?) Still not enough room. I know – let’s send them “beyond the seas” to this new land we just discovered, and make them support themselves. They can send back flax and timber from Norfolk Island, plus this will keep Boney and the Frenchies from claiming this part of the world! Win-win! Well, it didn’t work out quite like that, but it’s a fascinating story.
Tons of interesting facts from primary sources – letters, criminal records, etc. One example: apparently descendents of Irish convicts in Australia pride themselves on being the scion of political prisoners, when in fact political prisoners were only a tiny percentage – most Irish sentenced to transportation were common criminals. The Irish were treated more harshly than other convicts; there was one rebellion that was quickly crushed. Political uprising was easily quashed by dispersing the rebels – ending up on a remote farm where none of the other convicts had the energy to care pretty much put an end to that.
Australians also get a kick out of the idea that their formothers were whores, but that actually wasn’t a transportable offence. They were just thieves, mostly.
There’s a lot of thoughtful information about class issues and how historians disagree about whether the convicts can be considered a class; there was much loyalty amoung them, but as time went by some of them acquired wealth and disassociated themselves. Of course the military people and the folks who came over to farm (with land grants and convict labor) never saw them as anything but convicts, and the children of convicts were just as bad as their parents.
Along the way he mentions a bunch of stories of people that deserve to be made into books or movies: bushrangers; Eliza Fraser who was shipwrecked, along with her husband, on an island off the Australian coast, married a convict who’d lived with the Aborigines, and eventually returned to England (there is a book about that one, Patrick White’s A Fringe of Leaves); William Buckley, who escaped and was taken in by a group of Aborigines because they thought he was the returned spirit of one woman’s husband and lived with them for thirty-two years; Mary Bryant and her family, who rowed to Timor in a six-oar cutter they stole from the harbor and claimed to be shipwreck survivors. James Boswell gave her a pension.

I've just started Harriet Said..., Beryl Bainbridge's first novel, based very loosely on the about the notorious 1954 Parker–Hulme murder case in Christchurch, New Zealand.
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Whipping Girl, Julie Serano. It's a collection of essays about transsexuality, some of which touch on feminism and femininity. She thinks the latter is disparaged for misogynistic reasons; I disagree somewhat, but I acknowledge I have a blind spot because I was a tall tomboy and was always in trouble with my mom and grandmothers because I wanted to wear pants and play in the dirt. "Why can't you be more feminine?" or really anything positive about it makes me see red. The essays vary in style and appeal for me. I liked best the ones where she talks about her experience of growing up and figuring out her sexuality and gender. She also has some great thoughts about how TS people are portrayed in the media, how even sympathetic stories of MTF people always start with obligatory shots of putting on makeup, getting dressed, etc. Even if the person is a butch lesbian. Since I'd read How Sex Changed a few years ago, I already knew a lot of the stuff she describes about sexologists and doctors being gatekeepers for trans surgery and requiring the patient to live in "appropriate" gender roles - MTF people who saw themselves as lesbians were barred from surgery. So that part wasn't so interesting. I'd recommend it to anyone who's curious about transsexuality and how it's been treated by our culture and the medical establishment.

After that, The Child's Child, the newest Barbara Vine. A new Barbara Vine! She's one of my favorite writers, so I put off reading this, held it back as a reward, since I knew it would be wonderful. But sadly, it wasn't. Two stories, with a book-within-a-book, that are sort of related (themes of siblings; homosexual men; unwed mothers) but without the twists and turns I expect from Vine. I mean, who didn't see that blackmail coming??

The inner story is interesting and kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next, but it's written in the same voice as the framing story. It doesn't feel like a different book and nor does it feel like a book from the fifties, as it purports to be.

The framing story is kind of slight and doesn't have the emotional depth or the complex emotions that I associate with Vine/Rendell. The narrator tells us about her emotions but they don't feel real, nor do we understand much about the other characters. They seem to get angry just to move the story along. The end, and the motive of a character who shows up in the last pages, doesn't even make a lot of sense.

Now I'm reading Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore - The Epic of Australia's Founding and enjoying it very much. So far he's alternated chapters about the first peoples of Australia and the European discovery of the continent with descriptions of Georgian England and why it had a need for a distant land where convicts could be sent.
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I just finished A Death in the Family by James Agee. I had read a chapter of it years ago in an anthology of stories for young adults (which I'd love to find again - the title was something like The Further Shore or The Distant Shore.)

I want to grab everybody I know by the shoulders and shake them while yelling "You gotta read this book!" but since I can't do that I'll write a review.

It's the story of a few days in the life of a family, surrounding the death of the father. You know this going in, that's not a spoiler. Things are described in small moments of life, conversation, trains of thought. His wife and her aunt sit in the kitchen, waiting for word, telling each other that things are probably just fine, he's just injured and will be brought back soon to convalesce in the guest room - the wife has gotten it all ready for him - but hm, just in case the worst has happened, well no need to talk about that yet, but if it has... and you see the wife move from denial to acceptance, slowly, slowly. Later her brother has to tell her, the aunt, and his parents what happened, and his mother is very deaf so that words that he would want to softly say to them have to be shouted into her ear horn, and she still can't quite get it, and knows it, and knows everybody is resenting her. There's a fantastic moment when something strikes all of them as absurd, and they start laughing in that hysterical way that can happen when emotions are running high, and the mother doesn't understand what they're laughing at and suspects they're laughing at her, and is offended but doesn't want them to know how she feels, and they're all ashamed at how they're laughing but can't stop. He gets the awkwardness just right.

In between the account of the death and everything surrounding it are timeless accounts of the neighborhood - there's a fantastic description of evening when the women are cleaning up in the kitchen and the men all come out and water their lawns - and of Rufus, the dead man's young son being sung to sleep by his father, trying to make friends with older boys in the neighborhood, listening to his uncle talk about faith and realizing some things about people. It's just wonderful.

I just started Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Julia Serano.
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The Likeness, Tana French. I couldn't decide if I even wanted to read this after my irritation with In The Woods and its ending that didn't solve the mystery. Well, it solved the murder but it didn't solve THE MYSTERY. But somehow I bought this anyway and then it looked like a good book to read on a plane, and I wasn't disappointed.

The premise here is completely unbelievable: a detective who's the spittin' image of a murdered woman will go undercover and live in her household to catch the killer. There's a lot of shilly shallying about whether or not the detective will agree do do it (though of course we know she'll say yes, that's the point of the book.) Maybe that helped me, the reader, overcome my skepticism because, as ridiculous as it is, it works. The detective more than inhabits her role and is drawn into the emotional life of the group - why shouldn't she be? this is her "family" - and that's what won me over. The characters and the emotions felt so true. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and am still thinking about them and how things ended and how they might have been different.

Summer and Bird, Katherine Catmull. Originally I wrote a long review explaining everything I didn't like about this book, but I'm sure nobody else cares. The poetic style isn't for me, and I was annoyed by the magical world, which wasn't described enough to feel real. It also doesn't seem to have clear rules that the sisters must obey on their quest to find their parents. For me, learning the rules, being thwarted by them, and working with them is what gives magical stories (Oz, Edward Eager, E. Nesbit, Harry Potter) their tension. In this book, things just happen to the girls. They have some agency but are passive in many ways.

Some of the emotional things felt true and moving, like each sister's concern for and resentment of the other. The depiction of how someone can be made to distrust and hate a loved one, and learn to have contempt for the weak really worked. Other things didn't - the abandonment issues, like the Swan Queen's abandoning her people and the mother abandoning her children, didn't feel worked out. The ending was unsatisfying, especially the father's role.

Also, could she have chosen a clunkier term than "the attainable border" for one of the major plot points?

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, Ruth Rendell. A genial con man is involved with several women, one of whom is crazy. What could go wrong? A number of tangled web weavers’ lies intersect in curious ways. Rendell is magnificent at describing how people make bad decisions that make sense at the time, and the way emotions change as time passes. The tension towards the end of this one is deliciously unbearable.

A Death in the Family, James Agee. I've read an excerpt from this but never the whole book, and I'm really liking its stately pace and beautiful descriptions.


May. 16th, 2013 12:27 pm
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I finished Bestial: The Savage Trail of a True American Monster, by Harold Schechter. A serial killer in the 20s who killed a lot of women, mostly landladies. It's beautifully researched but sadly not that interesting because he's no Ted Bundy; he's more in the retarded / head injury / bipolar mode. Why did he kill? Who the hell knows. His MO was to go to houses displaying a "room to let" sign, strangle the landlady as she showed him the room, then rape her, and shove the body into a closet or under the bed. He started in San Francisco and San Jose (which was interesting for me because the addresses of the houses are given and of course I had to look them up on Google street view), then he worked his way across the country and up into Canada. Finally he was caught in Winnipeg and hanged.

Schechter describes each murder as it occurs but after a while they're actually boring - the showing of the room, the murder, the discovery. He does a good job of describing what else is going on in the world, like Lucky Lindy's flight, which is kind of cool. It gets interesting once the Canadians realize they're got a killer in their midst and people start chasing him. Anyway, this one is going in the get rid of bag.

Now I'm reading Tana French's The Likeness. I was absolutely infuriated with the ending of In The Woods, which never solved the central mystery. That is just wrong, wrong, wrong. You can't show a rifle in the first act without using it in the third.

This one has a totally unbelieveable premise and plot and so it sat on the shelf for quite a while. Then it seemed like maybe a good book to bring on a trip to distract me on the plane, and I'm hooked. The characterizations are so interesting, the look inside the protagonist's thoughts is totally believable. There are lots of distractions but I'm finding excuses to read this every day. I just hope the ending can live up to the rest of it.
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Hubert's Freaks: The Rare-Book Dealer, the Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus, by Gregory Gibson. Pretty much what it says in the title and the summary on the back. It's kind of interesting to see how Bob, the book dealer, works and to follow him through his marriages, divorces, and mental breakdown as he deals with everything in his life and nearly goes crazy from that and from his involvement with the Arbus photos. There's interesting discussion about how art objects are attributed and valued. I couldn't put it down, but [[SPOILER]] the unresolved ending was disappointing.

Shadow Baby, Margaret Forster. Two daughters given up by their birth mothers, two stories of how they grew up. Two women who relinquished their babies, and what happened after that. As the girls grow up their need to find their “real” mothers grows intense. What will the meeting be like? Is a (birth) mother’s love superior to all other loves?
She’s one of my favorite writers. She really gets people.

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America, Timothy Egan. About the establishment of national parks, early rangers fighting the timber barons who wanted to prof-it from America’s forests, and a huge fire in 1910 that burned three million acres of Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Our housemate, a serious hiker, lent it to me, and I’m enjoying it. The prologue describes people evacuating the town of Wallace, Idaho by train as the fire bears down on them, and it’s clearly the fire that inspired the novel A Prayer For the Dying, by Stewart O’Nan, which was one of my “best books” for 2012. O’Nan also wrote The Circus Fire, a great and horrifying non-fiction book.